Probably the most ancient method to influence the attitudes, beliefs and opinion of the people was that made by Asoka (250 B.C.) through the pillar and rock edicts, which are there even to this day. But with it also is associated one of the most paradoxical events in human history.
The edicts of Asoka are in Brahmi script which went into disuse even in the ancient times. So the messages had no influence whatever on the people though they were permanently inscribed on rocks. The script was deciphered and the message was understood only in the last century.
Among the mass media are the newspapers and magazines, the motion pictures, the radio, the television.
Mass Communication is the mass production and mass distribution of public message which can reach people within and outside the country. This is a characteristic feature of the industrial society. There is a mass production of messages for education and for entertainment by special institutions set up for this purpose by the newspaper companies and news agencies, the cinema, the radio and the television studios etc.
Highly trained specialists work in these institutions to keep a regular flow of messages. Beth the mass production and mas distribution of these messages is possible because of the developments in technology and because of the formation of huge institutions for this purpose and because the modern nations have come into existence.
Mass communication is directed toward a relatively large, heterogeneous and anonymous audience. This is why mass media are used by propagandists in order to influence or change public opinion. Microphones are used even in public meetings, music festivals, katha performances, etc. The aim is that the message of the lecture or the ‘katha’ is available not only to people assembled in the hall but also to the persons outside the hall.
One of the characteristic features, though annoying, is the use of vans fitted with microphones which move about in the roads in the election campaigns. Each candidate and party sends round these vans with specially trained people to extol the virtues of their party and the candidate with the hope that this will influence the voters.
Mass communications are quite powerful since they can reach large audiences in a brief span of time. They can have tremendous impact. It may be recalled that the radio announcement of the assassination of Gandhi in 1948 spread immediately to all parts of the country and there was the danger of communal riots since the identity of the murderer was not broadcast immediately. Thus, misinterpretations of radio messages may create situations of unruly mass behaviour.
As regards the nature of communication experience, mass communications are public, rapid and transient. They are public because they are not directed to any given individual or group. They are rapid because the scene can be witnessed on the television as it is happening, the news can be heard on the radio within a few minutes of the occurrence of the event and can be read in the newspapers within a few hours.
The information of the massacre of the Israeli sportsmen at the Munich Olympics was not only broadcast throughout the world through the radio, the television enabled people to see the events as they were happening. However, the Mass Communication messages are transient. They are intended to be consumed immediately. But some of them may be safely deposited for further use in film libraries and radio transcriptions.
Mass Media in Society:
Studies have been made to investigate the influence of mass media on attitudes and opinions. There are two types of responses that are of particular interest. One type of response is the strengthening of the attitudes that are already held by a receiver; the other type concerns attitude change, shifting of an attitude from positive to negative or vice versa; this type of response may be called “conversion.”
As noted above, studies show that the main role of mass media is to reinforce the already existing attitudes, to strengthen them. Relatively few people are actually converted. One of the important reasons for this is the individual’s basic need to operate within a frame of reference.
As seen earlier the individual approaches the world around him from the standpoint of attitudinal structures which he has acquired through socialization. A person uses his acquired attitude structure as a frame of reference to assess any messages related to the structure. Persuasion may involve either adding new material to old structures or changes in attitude and belief based on the creation of new reference frames.
If the receiver’s frame of reference is extensive and relatively complete, new information that is contrary to that frame will produce few noticeable changes in behaviour. It is obvious that people do not willingly expose themselves to information that threatens the frame of reference they already have.
When the mass media communicate such messages the individuals may either ignore them or even if they listen or read, they may not retain them. Studies show that people tend to retain only what tended to agree with their previous beliefs.
However, as far as the superficial fads and fashions are concerned, mass media have a profound influence. This is why the industrialists and businessmen spend millions to advertise their products. Such advertisements tend to bring about many uniformities in the society. The mass production of goods inevitably require the mass media to make people purchase them in large quantities.
Cycles, watches and transistor sets, not to speak of cigarettes, are now being consumed by persons belonging to the various castes, creeds, and areas of living, whether urban or rural. All these together with the restaurants and cinemas have ushered in the mass society.